Friday, 12 September 2014

Data and the deskilling of business leaders

Maybe some top dogs play down data because of its implications for their status and salaries

Everyone at the top of UK business is taking data seriously, but maybe not as seriously as they should according to a new report published by PwC.
The findings of Gut & gigabytes, written by the Economist Intelligence Unit, might not surprise everyone but indicates that there have been serious limitations on the move towards the data driven business. In short, its survey shows that decision-makers in big companies take data analysis seriously, but it comes third in importance behind their own intuition and experience and the advice and experience of others inside the company.
The report cites reasons for this that will be familiar. There’s scepticism about the quality, accuracy and completeness of data, with a sense that it hasn’t improved much in recent years. There’s also uncertainty about which data is really useful and a fear of getting lost in a deluge.
These are valid concerns, but I suspect there’s something that many C-suite leaders won’t acknowledge: they don’t like the idea of data having more value than what’s inside their heads.
Corporate business is dominated by high level executives who play heavily on their personal capabilities, obtaining high status and massive salaries from a perception that they can provide outstanding insights and prowess in decision-making, way above the abilities of more ordinary souls. They’re paid for their exceptional minds. But if their minds begin to take second place to the lessons provided by data, they become less valuable.
An increasing emphasis on data analysis creates the potential for a partial deskilling of business leaders. If their companies really become data driven organisations all that personal expertise won’t seem so important, and they won’t seem so valuable to shareholders.  I’m not suggesting that the whole C-suite structure is going to crumble, but there could be a shift in the balance that leads to a long term reduction in status and salaries.
I suspect that some business leaders hold half-formed, unspoken thoughts about all this, and don’t like the idea of trusting too much in data. And they might not be in a hurry to find ways over the barriers that they have identified.
Cynical? I suppose so. But cynicism has always been one of the major forces in business.
Mark Say is a UK based writer who covers the role of information management and technology in business. See

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Fleet managers might prefer driverless vehicles

Google Car could be seen as a step towards higher assurance and efficiency

In the few months since Google’s plans for a driverless car emerged, the public reaction has gone from a disbelieving chuckle to taking it seriously. Not that anyone expects to see thousands of them on the road in the next few months, even the next few years, but there is a serious debate around its capabilities and possible uses.

It has even prompted speculation that self-driving vehicles would have implications for insurers. A recent article in Insurance Journal pointed out that if a computer rather than a driver controls a car then any crashes would lead to claims against the product supplier rather than the driver. There may not even be a need for personal motor insurance.

If so, this could affect the thinking of companies that run or hire out vehicle fleets. One of the major elements of their planning is the risk management around careless driving, and they can never be 100% sure of the reliability and state of mind of any of their drivers. But, given a few years, self-driving technology could develop to the point where it would provide a higher level of assurance. Also, fleet operators could feel a lot better knowing they could claim from a multi-national manufacturer in the event of an accident.

This would be a logical progression from the development of mobile apps to support fleet operators. There are now plenty on the market that enable them to assist and monitor drivers, and link to back office logistics systems. They support control and integration, and there’s a case for removing the driver to reduce the uncertainties and streamline the process.

Of course there are some massive cultural barriers to overcome. A lot of people, fleet owners among them, are going to feel uneasy at the thought of trusting an array of sensors and internal processors to drive a vehicle. Existing drivers will not be happy. Even if they remain at the wheel to operate an emergency stop, they will see a future in which their role is downgraded and lower paid. And the larger the vehicle, the more it will spark public anxieties and the more resistance there will be.

But removing that risk of human error, of which we’re all too aware, will still provide a lure fleet operators to make a switch. Those running smaller vehicles, such as delivery vans, car hire and taxi services, could find self-driving cars especially attractive. Give it a few years and the driverless car could be a significant element of plenty of business operations.

Mark Say is a UK based writer who covers the role of information management and technology in business. See